Representations of urban high schools in Hollywood motion pictures

Christopher Jon Simenz, Marquette University


Purpose. To determine what, if any, are the differences between filmic depictions of Hollywood distributed motion pictures featuring urban high schools which are 'based on true stories' and the real world urban high school? Thesis. Films depicting `true stories' in real world urban high schools commonly distort facts and depictions in ways that perpetuates racism and maintenance of the dominant hegemony in American society. Methods. This project examined four urban high school films that were 'based on a true story' and to compared them to existing data, media reports, and the comments of the educators being portrayed to determine what, if any, differences exist between the films and the worlds they are meant to portray. Specifically, the films Stand and Deliver (Menendez, 1988), Lean on Me (Avildsen, 1989), Dangerous Minds (Smith, 1995) and Coach Carter (Carter, 2005) were assessed for commonalities in practice and depiction that helped to determine the basis for the representations forwarded by Hollywood motion pictures in the urban school genre. Results. Several common techniques and distortions of fact were utilized in the creation of these films, all of which served to subordinate populations of color. Amongst them were employment of common character stereotypes, negative depictions of student families, creation of a profoundly negative and dangerous educational environment, the association of minority males, specifically African Americans, with the threat of violence, stereotypical character traits of effective educators, and common technical production and film techniques utilized to promote fear of students and families of color. Conclusions. Hollywood films about urban schools do in fact alter factual accounts of urban high schools and use common creation techniques in a fashion that serve to promote fear of minority populations in viewers, in essence maintaining the present, racist social structure.

Recommended Citation

Simenz, Christopher Jon, "Representations of urban high schools in Hollywood motion pictures" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3277082.